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L E T T E R
JOHN FARR AND JOHN HARRIS, ESQRS.
SHERIFFS OF THE CITY OF BRISTOL,
AFFAIRS OF AMERICA.
HAVE the honour of sending you the two last
acts which have been passed with regard to the troubles in America. These acts are similar to all the rest which have been made on the same subject. They operate by the fame principle; and they are derived from the very fame policy. I think they complete the number of that sort of statutes to nine. It affords no matter for
very pleasing reflection, to observe, that our subjects diminish, as our laws increase.
If I have the misfortune of differing with some of my fellow-citizens on this great and arduous subject, it is no small consolation to me, that I do not differ from you. With you, I am perfectly united. We are heartily agreed in our detestation of a civil war. We have ever expressed the most unqualified disapprobation of all the steps which have led to it, and of all those which tend to prolong it. And I have no doubt that we feel exactly the same emotions of grief and shame on all its miferable consequences; whether they appear, on the one side or the other, in the shape of vic. tories or defeats, of captures made from the English on the continent, or from the English in these islands; of legislative regulations which subvert the liberties of our brethren, or which undermine our
Of the first of these statutes (that for the letter of marque) I shall say little. Exceptionable as it may be, and as I think it is in some particulars, it seems the natural, perhaps necessary result of the measures we have taken, and the situation we are in. The other (for a partial suspension of the Habeas Corpus ) appears to me of a much deeper ma. lignity. During its progress through the house of commons, it has been amended, fo as to express more distinctly than at first it did, the avowed fentiments of those who framed it: and the main ground of my exception to it is, because it does express, and does carry into execution, purposes which appear to me fo contradictory to all the principles, not only of the constitutional policy of Great Britain, but even of thạt fpecies of hostile justice, which no asperity of war wholly extin. guishes in the minds of a civilized people.
It seems to have in view two capital objects; the first, to enable adminiftration to confine, as long as it shall think proper, thofe, whom that act is pleased to qualify by the name of pirates. Those so qualified, I understand to be, the commanders
and mariners of such privateers and ships of war belonging to the colonies, as in the course of this unhappy contest may fall into the hands of the crown. They are therefore to be detained in prison, under the criminal description of piracy, to a future trialandignominious punishment, whenever circumstances shall inake it convenient to execute vengeance on them, under the colour of that odious and infamous offence.
To this first purpose of the law, I have no small dislike; because the act does not, (as all laws, and all equitable transactions ought to do) fairly describe its object. The persons, who make a naval war upon us, in confequence of the present troubles, may be rebels ; but to call and treat them as pirates, is confounding, not only the natural diftinction of things, but the order of crimes; which, whether by putting them from a higher part of the scale to the lower, or from the lower to the higher, is never done without dangerously disordering the whole frame of jurisprudence. Though piracy may be, in the eye of the law, a less offence than treason; yet as both are, in effect, punished with the same death, the fame forfeiture, and the fame corruption of blood, I never would take from any fellow creature whatever, any sort of advantage which he may derive to his safety from the pity of mankind, or to his reputation from their general feelings, by degrading his offence, when I